Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/239

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
229
CHAPTERS ON THE STARS.

there are several in the southern hemisphere which must to-day be placed in the first rank.

The history and work of the Cordova Observatory are of special interest. In 1870 Dr. B. A. Gould, who might fairly be considered as the father of modern American astronomy, conceived the idea of establishing an observatory of the first class in South America. He found the President and Governor of the Argentine Republic ready to support his scheme with a liberality well fitted to impress us with a high sense of their standard of civilization. In a year or two the observatory at Cordova was in active operation. A statement of its work belongs to a subsequent chapter. Suffice it to remark here that Dr. Gould continued in active charge until 1885, when he returned home, and was succeeded by Thome, the present director.

A few years after Gould went to Cordova, Gill was made director of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope. The rapid growth of this institution to one of the first rank is due no less to the scientific ability of the new director than to the unflagging energy which he has devoted to the enlargement of the resources of the institution. The great fact which he sought to impress upon his supporters was that the southern celestial hemisphere was as large as the northern, and therefore equally worthy of study.

In any general review of the progress of stellar astronomy during the past twenty years, we should find Harvard University before us at every turn. What it has done will be seen, perhaps in an imperfect way, in subsequent chapters. Not satisfied with the northern hemisphere, it has established a branch at Arequipa, Peru, in which its methods of observation and research are extended to the south celestial pole. Its principal specialties have been the continuous exploration of the heavens. Celestial photography, photometry and spectroscopy sum up its fields of activity. For more than ten years it might be almost said that a sleepless watch of the heavens has been kept up by an all-seeing photographic eye, with an accuracy of which the world has hardly had a conception. The completeness with which its work has been done has recently been shown in a striking way. Our readers are doubtless acquainted with the singular character of the minor planet Eros, whose orbit passes through that of Mars, as one link of a chain passes through another, and which comes nearer the earth at certain times than any other celestial body, the moon excepted. When the character of the orbit became established, it was of interest to know whether the planet had ever been observed as a fixed star at former oppositions. Chandler, having computed the path of the planet at the most important of the oppositions, beginning with 1892-94, communicated his results to Director Pickering, and suggested a search of the Harvard photographs to see if the planet could be found on them. The